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JULY 27, 2007

A Sunny Safari



We booked a budget camping safari with Sunny Safari's after going through hundreds of quotes from operators in Arusha, Moshi and Dar Es Salaam. Rather than go with the cheapest option (Hartebeest Safari's) we decided to go with Sunny who was competitivly priced, although not the cheapest, and came with heaps of good recommendations from the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree.

After sightings of plenty of elephant, buffalo, antelope etc in South Africa, our goal for this Safari was to see the Big Cats. As this is Andrew's first safari we'll obviously need to spend time with all the lesser animals but at the end ofthe day - Lion, Leopard and Cheetah rule the roost.

At a quarter past eight in the morning we sent our first phone call through to Sunny Safari's to confirm a vehicle was on it's way to pick us up. Assured one was, we sat around waiting excitedly for the next hour before putting our second call through. Finally at 10 o'clock, a full two hours late, a 4x4 came for us.

After loading our gear into the back of the Landcruiser we were taken to Sunny Safari's office to get organised (the vehicle was not packed yet), while we amened our itinerary with management (what they had arranged for us was wrong). The chef was none too pleased when he found out we were not in fact going to Lake Manyara but were heading all the way to the Serengeti. Suffice to say that by the time the car was packed, food was bought, and cooking supplies were picked up from road side shops - we were very late and none to pleased.

Rather than lunching in the Serengeti as planned, we stopped at the Twiga Campsite outside of Lake Manyara where we had a pretty pathetic lunch of cold sandwiches hastily prepared from the left overs of other Sunny Safari's vehicles already at the campsite - before pushing onwards to the gates at Ngorongoro.

At the Ngorongoro gate our chef gave our driver instructions on what to do while we fooled around with the baboons. Andrew, as shy as ever with camera, managed to get within two feet of a big female before it scampered off into the trees.

After two more hours of driving at breakneck speed we finally made it to the gates of the Serengeti after which we enjoyed our enroute game drive to the Seronera Camp Site. At 70kms per hour we did not see much.

The sun set we pulled in, and, as our guide and porter clearly were not prepared we lent them our torches and helped them setup the tents and cook dinner, which by the way was delicious.

One of the things they do not tell you when you plan a Serengeti Safari is just how far the Serengetti is from Arusha, to get to the camp is a long drive. They were probably relaxed about the morning start time thinking we were only heading to Lake Manyara, however to get to the Serengeti requires at least six to seven hours.

After dinner we sat down with the guide to set things straight - things obviously were not working out as planned and although we could not replace the driver cum guide, we could at least make the best of a bad situation. It was painfully obvious after talking with him that he had no plan.

After explaining what we wanted to get out of the next few days we asked if we could start the following morning at 6am for an early morning game drive, followed by breakfast and then with a packed lunch spend the rest of the day in the park. Like a dutiful servant he walked off to ask the chef if this was ok (against our advice).

The Pimblk Camp Site at Seronera is set right in the middle of the Serengeti National Park. There are no gaurds or fences and the camp is renowned for visitations by wild animals during the night. The drop holes are located at the edge of the camp near some thick scrub and trees. During the evening I was taking a pee in the bush when off to my right I heard a Lion roaring. Even though it was probably a few kilometres away I finished my business and was bcak inside the tented area in a flash.

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Day 2 - As planned we were up before the crack of dawn and one of the first vehicles out onto the road. Our driver at least was trying to make a go of it. After cruising around for half an hour we watched the sun rise over the Serengeti Savannah - beautiful.

Sunrise over the SerengetiSunrise over the Serengeti

Unfortunatly I think this was our drivers first time in the Serengeti - and probably on Safari. We spent the morning driving as close as possible behind other vehicles in search of game. Our CB Radio was broken so with no chance of over hearing other vehicles animal sightings we waved down passing cars for tidbits of information. Much to the relief of the driver we stumbled onto a lioness with four cubs lying in the grass beside the road.

Our roof would not stay in the open position so our Driver (who by now we were thinking was actually Sunny Safari's resident mechanic) lashed it open with a rubber ocky strap cut from an old tyre tube.

After the fortunate lion sighting we had little or no success for the remainder of the morning until we spotted a mass of cars clustered around a small bush on the side of the road. Jostling for a prime position we managed to get right up next to a large cheetah lying by the side of the road, pushing our driver to stop and let us enjoy the spectacle (rather than rushing from animal to animal).

For a good ten minutes we sat by the side of the road while the Cheetah just lay there, that was until a large truck let off its air brakes right beside us. Andrew was at this stage sitting outside of the vehicle above the front cabin, the Cheetah panicked and was on its feet in a split second, Andrew shat himself before squirming his way back into the vehicle.

What followed was photographically brilliant but fairly shameful in hindsight. The Cheetah walked down the road with nearly 30 vehicles following, before stopping at a creek to drink. The vehicles proceded to surround the cheetah giving it nowhere to escape to. Eventually it leapt across the water and disapeared into the undergrowth.

Cheetah

We arrived back at camp elated, and very late for breakfast. Our chef was slightly pissed off but we were finally getting what we had paid for.

After a hearty feed we were back on the road again. Over breakfast our driver had gotten word of a Leopard up a tree and manged to find out it's rough location. We managed to track it down - it was well off the road and difficult to see, but exciting none the less. We stopped for a short while but she was not going anywhere so we pushed on.

Further up the road was a large female Lion sitting patiently under a tree. After the other vehicles stopped for a cursory glance we convinced our driver to turn off his engine and just enjoy the moment with us. She sat there - staring at the Wildebeest for a good ten mintues, before getting up and walking off into the grass. With that, all the remaining vehicles took off but luckily we waited, I was sure we were in for some action. The lion walked off, away from the Wildebeest, then circled around behind them. In the long grass she slowly crouched into a hunting position, then, with explosive force pounced.

It is impossible to descibe with words or pictures the feeling of that moment. We were like three kids, perched on the roof of the landcruiser, all eyes on the animal, cameras put away for the moment. She raced through the grass after a young Impala which darted and weaved, finally evading the Lion and escaping into the undergrowth. Our adrenaline was racing - it truelly was an amazing experience.

A lioness pwatching some WildebeestA lioness watching some Wildebeest

To cap off a brilliant day, on the way back to check on the leopard, we spotted a lion sitting high up in the branches of a tree. We thought that tree climbing lions were pretty rare - so to have a lion and a leopard both in sight at the same time was amazing.

Unfortunatly the last few hours of game drive were wasted, our driver did not want to stray to far from camp and as a result we saw very little apart from the Serengeti Airport and the staff soccer pitch (it seems a bit of shame that they have cleared parts of the national park just to make a football field).

That night Donna slept fitfully with the sound of hyena's walking around the campsite.

Donna's Essential Guide to Safari Swahili

Simba - Lion
Twiga - Giraffe
Chui - Leopard
Nyati - Buffalo
Duma - Cheetah
Tembo - Elephant
Punda Milia - Zebra
Kiboko - Hippo
Nyani - Baboon
Nyumbo - Wildebeest
Swalapala - Impala
Simama - Stop!

Day three - we managed to get our driver out for another early morning game drive before we head off to the Ngorongoro Crater in the afternoon. While we were all watching the sun rise, Donna spotted a large male lion walking along side the road in the distance. As we started towards it a female lion walked straight down the road in front of us - heading in the opposite direction. We tailed it for a few minutes before our driver inexplicably took off (he had leapards on his brain). We shouted at him to stop the vehicle so that we could watch the lions that were here rather that try and find animals that could be anywhere.

After spending some time with the female lioness - the gentle rumbling of the male lion in the distance drew us in. We backtracked to where we had spotted the big male that morning and to our delight he was accompanied by a female and three cubs. We spent the next hour sitting there watching the pride while the male grumbled away to the replies of another lion off in the distance behind us.

When you are this close to lions, taking a piss outside of the vehicle no longer seems like a great idea (as we had been previously doing when it seemed safe). Andrew improvised by standing up on top of the roof of the landcruiser - balanced precariously on the edge facing towards the lions, unfortunatly Donna had to hold on.

When we finally moved off in search of Leopards amongst the rocky kopse's, we stumbled across at least three other lions within a few kilomtres of the main lion pride. Unfortunatly no more Leopard sightings were made and after spending a few hours driving around in circles we headed back to camp to packup for the long drive out of the Serengeti to the Ngorongoro Crater.

A Lion lazing on the rocky copsesA lion lazing amongst the rocky kopses

On our way out of the park we had one last moment of good fortune - spotting a cheetah lying under a tree not far from the side of the road. Unfortunatly we were in a bit of a hurry so could not stay long.

If we thought our driver/guide was actually a mechanic before, on the way out of the park our suspicions were pretty much confirmed. Aside from stopping beside every broken down vehicle to provide assistance, on the way out we stopped for a good thirty minutes so our driver could repair a broken down vehicle. When he finally rejoined us to move off our vehicle battery was totally dead. In true African Style we were jump started by another 4x4 pushing us from behind.

After leaving the Serengeti we entered the Ngorongoro Conservation Area again. At the park gate the Chef had to explain to our driver what the correct process for paper work was before we could press on.

The Masai are not allowed to run cattle within the Serengeti, however they are allowed to live within the Ngorongoro Conservation area (although not within the actual crater itself). Along the way we stopped off at a Masai Boma (village) where we could have ourselves a little "cultural experience". Donna and I were not so keen as we are planning on heading into the Masai Mara in Kenya after Tanzania tour concludes, however this is Andrew's only opportunity for such a thing so we all climbed out for the show.

50,000 Tanzanian Shillings later we were escorted by the village headman to the entrance of the Boma for the traditional welcome dance by the men, then the women. I would like to say that this was an enlightening experience, but in reality it felt more like an off broadway show than anything else. Inside the Boma, Andrew and I spent most of the time taking photos and video while the Masai went about their jumping and gawking. Even though we had paid our entrance fee and were told we could take as many photos as we wanted, the women would turn their heads and spit every time we went to take a photo.

When we had taken enough photos of the jumping we were shown into one of the little huts, and then asked to buy jewellery from that huts owner. It quickly turned into a farse with people coming from everywhere to hock their "genuine lions tooth" necklaces. Donna and I politely backed our way out for a quiet moment before we were shown the Masai School. This is where the show went into overdrive as the children sang the Jumbo song and recited Swahili words and numbers to us (the Masai don't even speak Swahili).

Feeling thoroughly disgusted with the whole thing we climbed back into the 4x4 for the final few hours to the Simba Campsite on the Crater Rim. Again our driver had to be shown where the campsite was by the chef.

After setting up the campsite we had to pull rank again, this time with the chef who had grown a superiority complex over the course of the safari. He insisted that we had to eat inside a building with all the other campers rather than outside near our tents. After a polite chat with our guide - and subsequent conversations between him and the chef - things were finally sorted.

With the ice in the esky (cool box) now fully melted, we resorted to sitting our remaining beers and wine out in the open to cool naturally. While we were waiting for dinner, Andrew comes running over to the tent all excited about something. It turns out a bloody big elephant had walked into the campsite, and, in an effort to get that extra special photo, Andrew had walked dangerously close to it before a gaurd armed with a pistol grip AK47 had yelled at him to back away carefully.

It was very very chilly that evening at Simba Campsite. So cold infact that the beers were very very drinkable by the time dinner was served. Disturbingly the beers were covered with warm meat juice (cleaned off with hand gel before being drunken), however we were very much relieved to be served vegetarian food that night.

Against Donna's wishes, and probably partially due to having one to many beers, we left a bag of rubbish outside the tent when we finally retired for the evening. I was therefore not at all suprised to be awoken by a panicked Donna at about 2 in the morning to the sound of a hyena licking it's lips! Throughout the remainder of the night, we could hear a mystery animal proceded to eat grass all the way around our tent.

By now the beers were having an impact on my bladder, patience was the order of the day. An hour or so later, just as I had made the decision to make the dash across the camp to the toilet block, the sounds of animals (cats or hyenas) fighting broke out - I decided instead to hold on till morning.

---

Day 4: We awoke to find the remains of last nights rubbish bag strewn around the campsite. I quickly cleaned up the mess before Donna was up.

The previous evening we had agreed to take on two other passengers whose vehicle had broken down. Their guide was informed we would be leaving at 6am to catch the sunrise in the crater. At 6:30 there was still no sign of them. Finally their guide appeared, a little bemused by the whole thing. We hung around for another 15 minutes before finding out they were not even up yet, our guide got fed up and left them all behind.

We arrived at the gate down into the crater a little after 7am, just in time to catch the sunrise. Best of all, our early arrival meant that we had the crater pretty much to ourselves for the first couple of hours. My new found love of photography means I not only have developed a liking for sunrises and sunsets, but for the special light in the few hours at morning and night.

The colours in the crater were simply brilliant - the crystal clear blue water, yellow grasses, pink flamingos, hippos lolling gently in the water.

Not being lioned out, we spent the best part of three hours sitting with a huge pride of lions. At first we counted two large males and six large females. By this stage our guide had twigged onto how we wanted to run this safari thing and was letting us just sit and enjoy ourselves.

Supprisingly after sitting for about an hour another male lion appeared in the grass right behind our vehicle. It had been sitting about 15 metres away the whole time and no one noticed. It walked across the road through the vehicles and for a moment I thought we were going to get a lion fight - strangely it joined the pride. Then from behind the pride another large male joined the group.

Male Lion in heavy trafficMale Lion in heavy traffic

Finally the lions moved off into a deep ravine and out of sight so we pushed on. We spent the remainder of the morning driving around in search of Rhino - the last of the Big 5 for Andrew to bag the set. Unfortunatly we had no success.

After lunching at the hippo pool we were pretty much safari'd out and ready to head home for a hot shower (we had not been provided for any method of cleaning during the whole safari).

Lunch at the Hippo Pool

On the way out of the Crater we came across more of the same - buffalo, giraffe etc as well as a really big elephant with the largest tusks we have seen to date.

From the crater rim we raced back to Simba Camp - packed up our tents and hit the road to Arusha stopping only for a vodka bottle filled with honey on the way home. We were then dropped off at Arusha Backpackers where we reluctantly gave the obligatory tips to our team, and bade them adue.

As much as the guide sucked - we really did have a very fortunate safari. So much about animal spotting is about patience and luck - and we seemed to have both over the last four days. A few brilliant encounters with lions, an amazing half hour with a cheetah, and plenty of laughs along the way. With an early morning start tomorrow to get across to Moshi to organise our trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, Cyclone Andrew moves further inland, building in momentum.

Click here to see the Serengeti Photo Gallery (53 photos)
Click here to see the Masai Boma Photo Gallery (18 photos)
Click here to see the Ngorongoro Crater Photo Gallery (33 photos)

     
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Nice hat!

Anonymous - September 25, 2007

Whew what an adventure

Anonymous - September 24, 2007

Big chuckle at Donna having a pee in the bushes. I am afraid l would not have been able to finish. I would have been falling over my pants trying to get back!

Stella - September 24, 2007

 
     
     
 

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